Category Archives: politics

no activist here

I have always believed in strong civic involvement–volunteering, helping out a neighbor, donating $$–but since we moved to Philadelphia last May I have been living an insular life. I believe that I live a good life, in a way that is responsible to the planet and to its inhabitants (my neighbors), but I need to to do more. I need to take action; get involved.

With that in mind, last night I attended the initial interest meeting for a new group, Transition Philadelphia, part of a larger international group, Transition US. The premise behind the Transition movement is that we are going to reach Peak Oil (the point where oil runs out) and we need to start preparing for that moment–we need to build resilience throughout our communities–energy, transportation, eduction, food, etc. (It sounds somewhat apocalyptic but I think the overall goals and theory are sound.)

This makes a lot of sense. But I left the meeting knowing that it’s not for me. I want to believe in grassroots organizing and activism, but I’m too much of a cynic. No matter how organized and active local groups and people can be; no matter how strong a local community is, the corporations are the ones that have the final say. I believe in macroeconomics. I believe that real change will come from cooperation with governments, corporations, non-profit groups, and neighbors.

This is  pretty defeatist way to start off a Thursday morning and I wish I could be idealistic but, over the past 14 years, I have learned that, at my core, I am not a grassroots activist. I admire what they do and I wish I could put my heart and energy into local causes and actions but every time I try my cynicism butts me in the head.

how does this help?

Sen. Mitch McConnell (Ky.)

image courtesy

I wasn’t going to blog about the midterm elections. I know they are important and I voted. But I have no patience for pundits and their speculation of what the next two years will look like for the U.S.  But I was shocked this morning when I heard what Republican Senator Mitch McConnell (Ky.) said yesterday:

“Our friends on the other side can change now and work with us to address the issues that are important to the American people that we all understood, or further change obviously can happen in 2012,” he said.

(quote courtesy UPI.

How does this kind of threat help the U.S.? How does it help bolster the economy? create jobs? fund healthcare? strengthen our schools? find solutions to the Afghanistan and Iraq wars? support our veterans?

Not only did the majority of American voters show Congress that they were unhappy with the Democrats, but their votes also showed that they are fed up with the bipartisanship of Congress. Come on Congress, get to work! Work together!

The American enterprise

America is rapidly transforming into a government-run enterprise.” –  Robert John Burck, the Times Square street performer who has announced his bid for presidency in 2012. (also known as the Naked Cowboy, he performs in cowboy boots, tighty-whities and a cowboy hat).

My response, in the form of a question:  is it better for America to be a government-run enterprise or a private corporation-run enterprise?

By definition, a congressman holds a public office; a private corporation is a capitalist office. The public officer looks out for the public good while the CEO looks out for the bottom line–of the corporation.

Obviously, not all politicians in Washington look out for the public good, but can the goal of maximizing corporate profits ever meet the goals of the public good? I think not. (And I also think of the most blatant disregard of the public good by a corporation in our recent history: oil-slicked wings of pelicans, oil-clogged blow-holes of dolphins, and a decimated fishing business in the Louisiana Gulf Coast. BP continues to rake in the profits while the public good is, well, not so good anymore.)

“Government of the people, by the people, for the people….”

At its core, America is a government-run enterprise. And the government is run by the people.  WE have a say in government. WE can control how America is run. WE need to vote. WE need to be politically active. I want America to be a government-run enterprise–as long as WE the people are the CEOs.


quick question

Many states are arguing that it is unconstitutional for the federal government to make it mandatory for individuals to buy health insurance. Yet it is mandatory for individuals to purchase auto insurance. The constitutionality of mandatory auto insurance has not be questioned in the courts (as far as I know). Am I missing something here?

no joy rides without taxation

Pack of cigarettes: $3.30
gallon of gas: ~$1.50

pack of cigarettes: $7.00
gallon of gas: $2.55

In 2000 a pack of cigarettes cost only $1.80 more than a gallon of gas. Today, a pack of cigarettes costs over $4.00 more than a gallon of gas. Why the big jump? Taxes pay a large role in determining the cost of cigarettes. Gasoline is also taxed. BUT, at a much lower rate than cigarettes. Proponents of the cigarette tax say that the health hazards of smoking are proven and documented, thus justifying the high taxes. Using the same knowledge, climate change scientists also state that the environmental hazards of carbon dioxide emitting vehicles is also proven and documented. Perhaps it’s time to consider taxing gasoline in the same manner that we tax cigarettes, as a environmental and health hazard.

Jag röstade! and it counted!

I love voting in the primaries because it is the rare time in American politics when I feel like my voice counts.  Yesterday was the primary election for the Democratic seat for US Senate for Pennsylvania.  Arlen Specter v. Joe Sestak.  Over a year ago when Hans and I decided to move to the Keystone State I was excited for a number of reasons: cheesesteaks, microbrews, proximity to friends and family, and the opportunity to get Arlen Specter out of office!  I’ve just never liked the guy and he put the icing on the cake when he switched parties in April 2009 so he could remain in power.

I was excited yesterday to vote for Joe Sestak and I was excited this morning when I turned on the radio and found out that he won!

‘Brother [sister] can you spare a…?’

Last week Hans was standing on Broad St. near Temple Medical School and a guy walked up to him and asked him if he had a quarter.  Hans said “no.” The guy walked away muttering “a**hole.”  Was Hans obliged to give the guy a quarter? And since he didn’t, does that make him an a**hole?  Hardly!

After Hans told me this story last night, we had a conversation about giving money to people on the street–panhandlers, homeless, destitute, whatever their situation.  After living and working in DC for over three years, I had to come up with a strategy that I could feel good about.

Kristen’s “spare change policy” circa 2006:

  • If I have loose change in my pocket, give it out.
  • Contribute either with money or time to an organization advocating or assisting the homeless.

Pretty straightforward and it worked well for me while I was living in DC.  But times change.

When we first arrived in Florida from the Bahamas in 2009 we spent a rainy afternoon at a gazebo in Daytona Beach, Fla. waiting for the public library to open.  Not surprisingly, we were joined a by a small group of men and one woman also waiting for 2PM.  These people were either homeless, in transition, or living at temporary housing which closed at 9AM.  We had a great conversation with them, sharing stories of our travels through the Caribbean and commiserated with them about the tight restrictions on access to public space on the east coast of Florida.  For the sake of my “spare change policy,” I need to generalize a little here.  People living on the street, or those that find themselves in in-between places are lacking regular human interactions.  So often people just pass them by, trying to look the other way, often times to reduce their own sense of guilt. I know, I’ve done it before and I know I’ll do it again.  The people we met in Daytona probably weren’t that interested in our sailing adventures or the geography of the ICW, but were just happy to have a conversation. This experience caused me modify my “spare change policy.”

Kristen’s “spare change policy” circa 2010

  • If I have loose change in my pocket, give it out.
  • Be human. If I give spare change, look the person in the eye and say, “sure, here you go.” If I don’t have spare change, look the person in the eye and say, “nope, not today” or “sorry, not today.”
  • Contribute either with money or time to an organization advocating or assisting the homeless.

What about you? What is your spare change policy?

energy lessons – Massey & BP

April 5, 2010: explosion at the Upper Big Branch coal mine in Montcoal, W. Va. kills 29;

April 20, 2010: explosion and fire on a BP drilling rig in the Gulf of Mexico leaves 11 missing, presumed dead.  An estimated 5,000 barrels of oil are leaking into the Gulf a day and the slick is currently the size of Jamaica.  (Not Jamaica, VT, but Jamaica the island, 45 x 105 miles.) The slick is steadily moving toward US coast, threatening 40% of the U.S. wetlands.  See

Wetlands are vital for a number of reasons, one of them being protection against tidal surge during hurricanes.  The 2010 hurricane season starts on June 1.

An op-ed in the Baltimore Sun looks at the differences in environmental impact between wind turbines and offshore oil spills:

“Whatever threat wind turbines may pose to migratory birds or homeowners’ views is a pittance compared to what an oil spill the size of a small country is in the process of doing to gulf wildlife and wetlands.”

Gulf spill demonstrates threat of off-shore drilling to Mid-Atlantic coast and Chesapeake Bay –

Posted using ShareThis

Renewable energy experts around the world, like my friend Suzanne at HuntGreen, have known for years that we need to be creative when it comes to new energy sources: wind, solar, algae, switchgrass.  Let’s think about these options before we start drilling for oil off the eastern seaboard.  An added bonus: those wind turbines would provide a fun regatta course!

urban gardening, CSAs & community farms

May 1 is just around the corner.  Here in the northeast, people with land are getting their hands dirty on the weekends, planting their first seeds of the season. City-dwellers are looking forward to farmer’s markets and the first CSA delivery.  When will the rhubarb be ripe?!

I live in Philadelphia but dream of owning a piece of land large with enough space to grow veggies, have a couple hens and two goats.  In the meantime, I’m thinking of how to get my hands dirty in the city (and I don’t mean by riding SEPTA).  The easiest way is to get a plot at a community garden. The Spring Gardens ( is a large, volunteer-run space with 180 plots, but the website has a waiting list of 2 years.

Greens Grow Farm ( is a large urban farm in the Kensington neighborhood of Philadelphia that has a nursery, CSA and farm stand with a goal of providing sustainable, green business development in the city.  Since Greens Grow is a non-profit and has a large group of volunteers, I’ll call it a community farm.  Non-profit, day-to-day farm management is led by an experienced farmer and supported by volunteers. The farm has wider goals for the community such as education, hunger-reduction and bringing fresh food to neighbors.

I really like the idea of a community farm. But I’m wondering about combining CSAs and community farms–creating an urban farm collective.  My rough idea is this:

  1. assemble a group of interested, committed people
  2. form a non-profit
  3. write grants and more grants
  4. receive grants (!)
  5. get a plot of land from the City
  6. start farming

Each member can have their own plot, or we can have one large plot where we share the veggies. Chickens, goats, pigs? As long as we have enough committed members, I think animal husbandry and a small dairy operation could be part of the farm. If we got enough grant money, it is possible that we could hire a person to manage the farm on a part or full time basis, but I envision the bulk of the work coming from members of the farm.

I’ve googled community farm in different forms and have only found CSAs and community farms (like Green Grows).

What do you think? Could this be viable?

Betty Dukes takes on Wal-Mart

Nine years ago Betty Dukes filed a lawsuit against Wal-Mart alleging gender stereotyping and discrimination.  According to a Business Week article, experts hired by the Plaintiffs’ attorneys provided evidence that, across the US, women were paid less than men and in every job category. They also found that it took women longer to reach management positions than men. CNN also cites that the lawsuit alleges that “…women make up more than 70 percent of Wal-Mart‘s hourly work force but in the past decade made up less than one-third of its store management.”

The 9th Cir. Court of Appeals just certified the case as a class action lawsuit, allowing more than 1 million women to join.

Emily at

has posted a great chart which obviously outlines the pay disparity at issue.

HipHopWired has a brief synopsis of the news:

Male-female income disparity, the gender earnings gap and the gender pay gap are all terms used to describe what women across the U.S. know every time they get their paycheck: men get paid more than women. For the same job.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics News Release dated April 15, 2010 cites

“Women who usually worked full time had median earnings of $665 per week, or 78.8 percent of the $844 median for men.”
Of course, not only is there a gender gap, but there is also a large difference in earnings based on race and ethnicity. The same News Release cites
“median earnings for black men working at fulltime jobs were $635 per week, 73.1 percent of the median for white men ($869). .. black women’s median earnings ($584) were 86.1 percent of those for white women ($678). …median earnings of Hispanics who worked full time ($554) were lower than those of blacks ($610), whites ($772), and Asians ($859).”

I’ve been reading news articles that women from the Civil Rights generation, from the 1960s, are worried that young women today think that we have reached gender equality and that upon graduation from high school, tech. school, and college, they will have the same opportunities as their male counterparts. The same opportunities? Maybe. The same rewards? Not yet.